A clean slate

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Q: I understand that deleted files stay stored somewhere on your hard drive. So, how can I make sure files are permanently deleted from my PC?
–B. Farqua Huntsville, Alabama

A: Even after you delete a file and empty your trash or recycle bin, the data remains on your hard drive until another piece of data overwrites it. The only safe way to delete a computer file is to erase it and overwrite it with new data several times so that no traces survive.

Many third-party programs (for both Mac and PC users) can overwrite files and perform other functions to optimize the data on your hard disk. McAfee (www.mcafee.com), popular for its anti-virus programs, offers UnInstaller Deluxe. The program enables you to get rid of Internet cache files, temp files, duplicate and junk files. It costs $39.95. UnInstaller lets you identify the amount of disk space you want free and then recommends which files to delete. You will need at least 10MB of free, hard disk space and 8 MB of RAM for Windows and 16 MB for NT.

There’s also Norton CleanSweep 2000 from Symantec (www.symantec.com) and BCWipe for Windows (www.jetico.com). Mac users can use Pretty Good Privacy (www.pgpi.org) or the Burn utility from (www.macdownload.com.).

Obviously, having data only partially deleted is of no consequence to anyone who is trying to get rid of amorous e-mail, for example. But any PC user who is trying to purge his or her system of confidential data will want to completely overwrite the sectors on the hard drive where the data resides.

Mail your technology-related questions to Cyberwise at black enterprise, 130 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011, or send an e-mail to dingled@blackenterprise.com.